We shall never surrender

We have just moved back to London. At the moment we are in Fulham, which as you can imagine this morning was a bit like a war zone. Helicopters buzzed above us, ambulances whizzed through the streets and there were police everywhere. It made me feel fiercely protective of this city and livid that yet again it is under attack.
I have just written the speech I wish London mayor Sadiq Khan had given rather than trotting out the same old tiresome platitudes. It seems to me that what we need is a Winston Churchill to take charge…download-1

This morning at 8.20am there was an attack on a tube as it pulled up at Parson’s Green. A home-made bomb caught fire. Thankfully the perpetrators were too inept to make it explode. But still, it went up in flames, hurling a fireball down the carriage into the faces of people going to work and children going to school. Among the injured was a 10-year-old boy. If the bomb had actually blown up he, as well as countless other, would now be dead.
London is one of the world’s great cities. It has always welcomed people from all countries and religions. Walk down any street in London and I guarantee you will hear people talking in foreign languages. They will be different colours, different religions, they will even support different football teams.
But they will have one thing in common. Their home. London.
An attack on London, as my predecessor Boris Johnson said, is an attack on the world. It is an indiscriminate attack on whatever religion, culture or creed happens to be in the wrong place as the wrong time. It is also an attack on our way of life. And we are no longer prepared to put up with this kind of assault.
If you want to live in London, make a life here for your family, have a career and exist peacefully in this great city, you are welcome.
But if you attack us, if you try to kill and maim our children in the name of some spurious utopia that takes us back to the Middle Ages then you are not welcome. In fact, anyone who posts allegiance to Isis or any extremist organisations, or declares our way of life abhorrent, is not welcome.
If you don’t like the way we live, then leave. Just as Londoners have let millions who differ from them live alongside them for centuries without bothering them or trying to impose their own beliefs on them, let us live how we want to live without fear of attack. We will not be hounded in our own home. Londoners are famously stoical and patient. You only have to spend a winter here to see that. But enough is enough.
From today, anyone swearing allegiance to any extremist organisation that threatens our way of life, or who goes abroad to fight for a foreign enemy will have their residence revoked. Living in London is a privilege, not a right. It is a privilege that too many have come by too easily. And maybe that’s why they don’t respect it.
We are not prepared to see our children injured, innocent people maimed or frightened to leave their homes. The time has come to take action. London will survive this era. You cowards will not.

Wish List for 2014

Now that New Year is finally over, it’s time to look forward to the rest of 2014. Bea, for example, has compiled a ‘Wish List’ with the item on it and a little box to tick when it has been fulfilled. For those of you wishing to do the same I have scanned it. Scan
As you will see, she already has two of the five items on it. Not bad considering it’s only January 10th.
On my wish list I might have a few more than five items. Obviously the bubble wrap calendar would be number one, but after that I might wish that women in Saudi Arabia would be granted the right to drive, or that girls in India could live their lives without fear of gang rape and murder. In fact why limit that to India? I would also wish that some miraculous peace reigned in Syria and all those languishing in jail there (especially the children) would be freed. Although it is hard to imagine what kind of homes they have left to go to.
Once my world problems wish list had been completed I could move on to more personal matters, such as losing three kilos, and writing a best-selling book. High on that list would be that the children are happy at school. I know that top of Leo’s wish list (even before world peace and human rights for all) would be me living in Surrey two minutes from Woodcote so he could be a day boy, and sometimes that figures on my wish list too. But we spoke to him last night and he was very happy. Unbeaten at pool and six goals in the hockey match.
I hope whatever you wish for in 2014 comes true. My advice is to start small, with a list like Bea’s, most of which can be obtained online. Happy New Year!

French Feminism

This morning as I was battling on the exercise bike, I watched a brilliant programme on the French channel Arte about the feminst group ‘Ni Putes, Ni Soumises’ (not whores, nor submissives). Obviously as it was all in French I hardly understood any of it, but what did strike me was how elegant French feminists are. They wear lip gloss, nice clothes and have expensive hair cuts. In fact, they look just like most French women.

Maybe the days when feminists had obligatory hairy armpits and wore hideous sandals are over? Perhaps now that we (I use the term loosely) have made such great strides we can go back to looking like most women actually want to look, which is feminine and, well, beautiful?

In the book Persepolis that I blogged about a few weeks ago there is a brilliant cartoon where the author shows how ridiculous rules about how you look keep women from thinking about what is really important. So if you are worried abut being arrested because your scarf is not on the right way, or your abaya is too clingy, or your lip gloss too obvious, then you are unlikely to have the time to worry about your right to vote, or talk to a male or complain about the regime that is oppressing you.

So now that feminists can go back to high heels, waxed legs and mascara, will it give them less or more time to feminise? Is that even a word? Who knows, but at least I have time to think about it.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

A good book

I am almost at the end of the most brilliant book called Persepolis by an Iranian woman called Marjane Satrapi.I know it’s not new and everyone else has probably already read it, but it has really brought home to me several things.
First, the joy of a good book. I woke up at 5.30 this morning and very quietly reached for it, there was just enough light to make out the words and the droll pictures (it is a comic book).


Second, it is the first time I have really understood what it must be like to live under an oppressive and hideous regime. Even though the Arab Spring is going on all around me, I have never really imagined what it means to families like ours, never been able to relate to it on a personal level. These are things that happen to other people. But Satrapi is so easy to relate to and so similar to people I know on so many levels that you feel the sheer injustice, stupidity and hypocrisy of the events around her almost as if they are happening to you. She writes and draws with such humour that you are totally captivated, as well as being shocked and disturbed by the story.
The other day I tried to explain to Olivia what the Arab Spring is. As someone who never does what she’s told, she found it inconceivable that whole nations live doing just that, with little or no personal freedom. It was tough to get through to her. “Why do they put up with it?” she asked. “Why don’t they just tell them to shut up.”
I think I will give her Persepolis to read, and I hope she relates to it as much as I have. Not just because I want her to understand oppression and injustice and political freedom and human rights. But because I want her to know what it feels like to really enjoy a good book.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Blood in Bahrain

Just read the following in an excellent article from today’s New York Times (www.newyorktimes.com). It is so tragic that these outdated despots can’t see that change is inevitable, with or without bloodshed.

Rupert was in Bahrain last week and said the people are lovely. I tried to go once and was refused entry by the foreign ministry, which made me feel like a proper journalist.

In the bloodstained morgue, Ahmed Abutaki, 29, held his younger brother’s cold hand, tearfully recalling the last time they spoke Wednesday night. “He said, ‘This is my chance, to have a say, so that maybe our country will do something for us,’” he recalled of his brother’s decision to camp out in the circle. “My country did do something; it killed him.”

Miss Landmine – right or wrong?

I was really heartened to read today that there is a beauty contest for victims of landmines called Miss Landmine. Not only does it raise awareness of this dreadful weapon (which costs about $15 but ruins a life in less than a second), but it also means a lot to the women entering it. One woman said she felt she was no longer hiding herself away but was proud to be out there, showing herself off.
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Now I read that Cambodia is banning it, calling it an “insult to disabled people”. So what does that make Miss World? An insult to “normal” women? Or women with big breasts and big hair? All this political correctness does my head in. And I don’t think it is particularly constructive any more. If Miss Landmine now doesn’t go ahead then the winner will not get a custom-made prosthetic limb. So who exactly does that help? The PC brigade possibly. But it sure as hell doesn’t help the woman without a leg.

On a lighter note, I went to see our dentist yesterday. He is one of those lovely gentle Indians who talks like he’s in a Merchant Ivory Film. When it was time to X-ray my teeth, he leaned over and asked sotto voce: “Are you in the family way?” I may just be part of the last generation who will know what that means.

On Thursday we head off to France on holiday. I am longing to see the girls, my mother, our friends and to breathe the air. But I am not looking forward to speaking French. I am already rehearsing conversations in my head, and they are not going well.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Wear trousers today…because you can

It is astonishing to think that in the year 2009 a woman can receive 40 lashes from a whip-wielding police officer for any offence. It is even more astounding when you realise her “crime” was to wear a pair of trousers.

This is what may happen to the Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein who was arrested on July 3rd for wearing trousers, along with 13 other women in a cafe. Instead of submitting to a lesser amount of lashes straight away as some of the others did, she opted to stand trial for her crime. In addition she resigned from her job at the UN which would have afforded her immunity so she could challenge the ruling.

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“This is not a case about me wearing pants.This is a case about annulling the article that addresses women’s dress code, under the title of indecent acts. This is my battle. This article is against the constitution and even against Islamic law itself,” she said.

I agree that a lot abuses of human rights are carried out under the auspices of religious law which is not, I imagine, how it was intended. Nowhere in the Koran does it say that women cannot wear trousers. It just says they should dress modestly. Some have interpreted this to mean they should be covered from head to foot.

I am living in a thankfully far more modern Islamic state than the Sudan, but even here the penalty under Sharia law for sex outside marriage is death by stoning. Death by stoning? Surely such a barbaric and base method of punishment has no place in any society, especially one that prides itself on tolerance and kindness, as Islamic society does?
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Also today send a prayer, spare a thought, whatever it is you believe in, for Aung San Suu-Kyi, another female victim of a nonsense “crime” who welcomed an (uninvited) stranger into her house and now faces five years in prison. Her sentecing is today. How she manages to remain one of the most elegant, serene and beautiful women in the world is a miracle.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Has the world gone stark raving mad?

I have just read a story on the BBC website that makes me want to throw up. An eight year old Liberian girl in Arizona was lured into a shed, attacked and gang-raped by four Liberian boys aged nine to 14. Her parents have disowned her, saying she has brought shame on the family.

She is in the care of the local authorities who say they have had several offers of help and even adoption. That’s great. But the one person a traumatised eight-year-old girl really needs is her mother. I cannot believe that any mother, whatever her misguided social or religious convictions might be, would be this cruel. I can only assume it is the men in the family forcing her to reject her child.

I can’t stop thinking about the poor girl. What a tragedy. The boys have been arrested and will be punished. I suppose we should be thankful they live in a society where the law is thus. But surely it is time for people like this girl’s family to realise that in a case of rape it is the rapist who should be shunned, and not the victim.

Societies like ours have an obligation to force those who move to our shores to adopt our laws and moral guidelines. Forget being politically correct. Forget about trying not to upset them. This is about what is so obviously wrong against what is right. If they are too ignorant to see it, we have to educate them, for the sake of this little girl and thousands of victims of “honour” crimes across the world.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Murder most foul

The murder of Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist based in Chechnya, is so brazen and so appalling I can hardly believe it is true.

This is a woman who worked tirelessly to expose human rights abuses, to protect people and help them. Her kidnapping and subsequent murder is cruel beyond belief and almost certainly organised by those she sought to expose; among them the Russian sponsored Chechen president.

She was bundled into a car outside her home where she lives with her 15-year-old daughter. Someone heard her shout “I am being taken”. Next thing she was found dead on the notorious ‘Kidnap Highway’ with bullet wounds in her head and chest.

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“I can’t imagine Mum won’t be around any more and that I won’t be making morning coffee for her,” said her daughter Lana who is now an orphan. Estemirova was a widow.

The international community has of course condemned the murder, but until someone actually says or does something concrete the Russians will carry on with impunity. Since 2000, 17 journalists have been killed including Anna Politkovskaya and many others involved in investigations that could harm those in power. Only one case has resulted in a conviction. Funny that.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009

Letter from Zimbabwe

This plea for help from a man in Zimbabwe arrived today. I don’t know what I can do to help, but rather than do nothing am posting it. What can you do?

ViolenceI reckon that these are the last days of TKM and ZPF. The darkest hour is always before dawn.

We are all terrified at what they are going to destroy next……..they are ploughing down brick and mortar houses and one family with twin boys of 10 had no chance of salvaging anything when 100 riot police came in with AK47’s and bulldozers and demolished their beautiful house – because it was ‘too close to the airport’, so we are feeling extremely insecure right now.

You know – I am aware that this does not help you sleep at night, but if you do not know – how can you help? Even if you put us in your own mental ring of light and send your guardian angels to be with us – that is a help -but I feel so cut off from you all knowing I cannot tell you what’s going on here simply because you will feel uncomfortable. There is no ways we can leave here so that is not an option.

I ask that you all pray for us in the way that you know how, and let me know that you are thinking of us and sending out positive vibes… that’s all. You can’t just be in denial and pretend/believe it’s not going on.

To be frank with you, it’s genocide in the making and if you do not believe me, read the Genocide Report by Amnesty International which says we are – IN level 7 – (level 8 is after it’s happened and everyone is in denial).

If you don’t want me to tell you these things-how bad it is-then it means you have not dealt with your own fear, but it does not help me to think you are turning your back on our situation. We need you, please, to get the news OUT that we are all in a fearfully dangerous situation here. Too many people turn their backs and say – oh well, that’s what happens in Africa

Petrol QueuesThis Government has GONE MAD and you need to help us publicize our plight—or how can we be rescued? It’s a reality! The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food, water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener’s wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 adult people and a child on this property, and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water.

How can I take on another family of 4 —–and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?

I am not asking you for money or a ticket out of here – I am asking you to FACE the fact that we are in deep and terrible danger and want you please to pass on our news and pictures. So PLEASE don’t just press the delete button! Help best in the way that you know how.

Do face the reality of what is going on here and help us SEND OUT THE WORD.. The more people who know about it, the more chance we have of the United Nations coming to our aid. Please don’t ignore or deny what’s happening. Some would like to be protected from the truth BUT then, if we are eliminated, how would you feel? ‘If only we knew how bad it really was we could have helped in some way’.

[I know we chose to stay here and that some feel we deserve what’s coming to us]

Hyper-InflationFor now,— we ourselves have food, shelter, a little fuel and a bit of money for the next meal – but what is going to happen next? Will they start on our houses? All property is going to belong to the State now. I want to send out my Title Deeds to one of you because if they get a hold of those, I can’t fight for my rights.

Censorship!—-We no longer have SW radio [which told us everything that was happening] because the Government jammed it out of existence – we don’t have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph. If we had reporters here, they would have an absolute field day. Even the pro-Government Herald has written that people are shocked, stunned, bewildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of many folks homes, which are supposed to be ‘illegal’ but for which a huge percentage actually do have licenses.

Please! – do have some compassion and HELP by sending out the articles and personal reports so that something can/may be done.

‘I am one. I cannot do everything, —but I can do something.. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God,
I will do.’

– Edward Everett Hale

PS Please send this on to everyone in your address book. We send jokes out
without blinking an eyelid. We don’t get told this on the news in South Africa , we only get told what they want us to hear. We all have a chance to do something, even though the something is by pressing forward to as many people as possible. Let’s stop talking and let’s start doing! There is power in prayer, there is also power in more people knowing about this than you in my address book. This is going to America , Dubai , Australia , France , South Africans all over South Africa , the UK . By forwarding this to all in my address book I have done something. The world needs to know what is going on.